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The Crossroads

Composer Robert Schumann
Composer Robert Schumann (ca 1839)

On July 30, 1830, Robert Schumann wrote from Heidelberg to his mother in Zwickau about the crossroads he had reached:

My entire life has been a twenty-year struggle between poetry and prose or, if you prefer, between music and law. In things practical my ideals were just as high as they were in art. My ideal was, in fact, to have a practical influence, and I hoped to wrestle in a broad arena. But what’s the likelihood of that, particularly in Saxony, for a commoner with no powerful patron or fortune and no real fondness for the begging and scraping that are part of a legal career!

At Leipzig I was oblivious to plans for the future. I went my merry way, dreaming and hanging around and really doing nothing of value. Since I got here I’ve done more work, but in both places my attachment to art just keeps getting deeper and deeper. Now I’ve come to the crossroads and I think with terror: Which way do I go now?

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If I follow my instinct it will lead me to art, and I believe that’s the right path. But, in fact–and don’t take this wrong, I say lovingly and in a whisper–it always seemed to me that you were blocking my way in that direction for worthy maternal reasons that are as clear to me as they are to you: the “uncertain future” and “unreliable livelihood” as we used to call it.

But what’s going to happen now? The most tormenting thought a man can have is the prospect of an unhappy, lifeless, and superficial future of his own making. On the other hand, though, it’s not easy to choose a way of life that’s at odds with one’s early upbringing and disposition. It requires patience, confidence, and fast training.

I’m still in the youth of my imagination, capable of being cultivated and ennobled by art, and I believe that with hard work, patience, and a good teacher, I’ll be the match of any pianist